Data-Driven Decisions: The Focus on Labor Market Data
With an ever-changing workforce, it’s critical to stay up to date and keep pace with industry demands. But to fill the growing gaps, higher ed leaders need to focus on labor market data and leverage them to position the institution for success. In this interview, Tana Hicks discusses the evolution of the labor market, how data plays a key role and the ways higher ed institutions can meet industry needs while scaling effectively.
The EvoLLLution (Evo): How has the higher ed landscape evolved in response to the changing labor market?
Tana Hicks (TH): We’ve been forced to pay attention to how the labor market has impacted the way our students experience their programs. Robust labor market information has become essential to their experiences when it comes to choosing their career. Before COVID, we thought we had a good grasp of what the strong industries and careers were, but many occupations outside of essential worker categories were in jeopardy due to the pandemic, so we had to adapt quickly to focus on what was most needed in our region. For DFW, that has been health care, information technology, manufacturing, construction and finance.
Dallas College has strategically moved forward from the impact of COVID by pushing high-demand programs that lead to strong, thriving-wage careers.
Evo: How do labor market data contribute to an institution’s ability to meet industry needs and scale effectively?
TH: Within our Labor Market Intelligence Center, we’re doing a lot of work to inform our senior leadership, faculty and students to make sure the right data are at their fingerprints. We created School of Instruction reports to show the strong industries and occupations within each school.
In these reports, we also include top employers, the skills they’re looking for and the salary projections for those jobs. We want to show students the laddering options they have. In addition to those School-focused reports, we are beginning to build out some industry-specific reports that would be useful to Dallas College as well as our external audiences. More broadly, the LMIC has developed a State of Workforce report that helps readers understand the DFW workforce landscape—where we’ve been, how we’ve improved and areas of opportunity. Finally, we’ve also launched some automated dashboards that allow anyone working for Dallas College to explore the relationship between these in-demand, well-paid occupations and our programs.
Evo: How are students able to obtain this information?
TH: We have some student-facing tools through Lightcast, formerly known as Emsi Burning Glass, that we’re able to use: Career Coach and SkillsMatch. These tools are distributed across our student success teams to allow student leadership to lead students through their career journey via these labor market tools. Our pathway specialists and career coaches help students explore their career options and what it takes to achieve their goals.
Evo: What are the challenges to obtaining or leveraging those data?
TH: The biggest challenge is when the data aren’t robust. For us, the School of Education is an area that’s difficult to get robust data on, since many of our ISDs don’t necessarily report to traditional job boards when they have job openings. So, those data are not collected within our sources. But other industries have problems in other areas when it comes to state and federal reporting, so where there are gaps, our knowledge becomes a bit scarcer. As a result, we have to figure out on-the-ground research methods that can fill those gaps. In some ways, we have done that work by making connections with employers, so they then share some of this information with us.
Evo: What are some best practices to help overcome the obstacles you’ve mentioned?
TH: On-the-ground research is key. Qualitative research and analysis are valuable assets when we can obtain this information from students, community members and employers via surveys, for example. Building that employer relationship and having a clear understanding of what they need can help us better match qualified students with good-paying jobs. If we partner with employers, we have to ensure our students are getting the best out of their experience.
Evo: What impact can labor market data have on the institution and its learners?
TH: Informing our students are what’s available to them and how quickly they can access these resources is critical. Many students come here because they have to. They need quick turnaround credentials to jump into the workforce, so we must ensure they’re getting the best return on their investment.
Some students transfer to four-year institutions, while others go right into the workforce to find a better position. Access to labor market data allows them to see the big picture regarding where they can end up. They’re able to see themselves as a valuable member of the community. By leveraging the tools we have and informing the college as a whole with the reports and dashboards we create and maintain, we aid in the process of positioning students to make well-informed career decisions.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.